As Halloween approaches, Gold Derby looks back at the Academy Awards’ history with horror movies.
Only last year, voters embraced the disturbing “Black Swan” (2010). The genre-straddling film is not an outright horror film, but the twisted tale of Nina Sayers (Best Actress winner Natalie Portman) — a ballerina obsessively dedicated to her role in “Swan Lake” — certainly has its fair share of genre elements. Many of the film’s iconic images involve Nina’s certitude that she is physically transforming into a swan. Along with Portman’s Actress win, “Black Swan” was also nominated for Best Picture, Director (Darren Aronofsky), Editing, and Cinematography.
Benicio Del Toro waited years for the chance to play “The Wolfman” (2010) in a remake of the 1941 classic which starred Lon Chaney, Jr. Critics and audiences were both unimpressed with this new version, but it stole off into the night with a Best Makeup Oscar — the seventh win for veteran Rick Baker.
Another modern take, this time of “The Invisible Man,” titled “Hollow Man” captured the Academy’s attention back in 2000. After Kevin Bacon is made transparent in the film, he snaps and goes on a killing spree. The film lost its Best Visual Effects bid to “Gladiator.”
“Shadow of the Vampire,” also from 2000, picked nominations for supporting star Willem Dafoe and Best Makeup. This imagining of the filming of silent vampire classic “Nosferatu” (1922) has Dafoe portraying actor Max Schreck, who is suggested here to have been a real-life vampire. Dafoe lost that race to Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”) and the makeup honor went to the more family-friendly “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Director M. Night Shyamalan makes regular showings at the Razzie Awards nowadays, but back in 1999 his smash hit “The Sixth Sense” scared up six Oscar nominations including Best Picture. In the film, Supporting Actor nominee Haley Joel Osment sees dead people, namely Bruce Willis, whose mortality factored heavily into the film’s much-publicized twist. The film lost all its races, including those for Best Supporting Actress (Toni Collette), Film Editing, and writing and directing (Shyamalan).
Tim Burton‘s “Sleepy Hollow” (1999), a take on the legend of the Headless Horseman starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, won Best Art Direction. The period costumes and cinematography were also nominated.
Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise played undead companions in “Interview with the Vampire” (1994). Kirsten Dunst, as their adopted daughter, got a Golden Globe nomination, but the academy drove a stake through her Oscar hopes. They did, however, nominate the film’s sets and Elliott Goldenthal‘s score.
The Academy really sank their teeth in Francis Ford Coppola‘s “Dracula” (1992) with Gary Oldman in the title role. This retelling of Bram Stoker‘s classic tale won honors for its costumes, sound effects, and makeup. The film’s sets were also nominated.
David Cronenberg‘s remake of “The Fly” (1986) showed Jeff Goldblum‘s unnerving, graphic transformation into an insect. His DNA accidentally merges with a fly’s during a risky teleportation experiment. As gross as it may have been, it was an easy winner for Best Makeup.
“Poltergeist” (1982), one of the greatest horror films of all time, earned three Oscar nominations. The classic haunted house story about a little girl abducted into her television by a demonic presence contended for Best Visual Effects, Sound Effects, and Original Score. Producer Steven Spielberg‘s rival film “E.T.” bested it in all three races. Crummy sequel “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” also competed for Best Visual Effects in 1986, losing to sci-fi horror flick “Aliens.”
The inaugural year for the Best Makeup category had the Academy howling their support for “An American Werewolf in London” (1981). David Naughton‘s shocking transformation into a murderous beast let it easily defeat the only other nominee in its category — “Heartbeeps,” an unintentionally terrifying comedy about robots in love.
Though haunted house drama “The Amityville Horror” (1979) seems tame by today’s standards, it spooked the Academy into nominating Lalo Schifrin’s evocative score. Based on a true story, James Brolin and Margot Kidder cope with living in a seemingly evil house where terrible murders were committed.
Composer Jerry Goldsmith (“Planet of the Apes,” “Chinatown”) won his only Oscar for “The Omen” (1976), about an American ambassor (Gregory Peck) who discovers his son Damien is the Antichrist. Goldsmith also contended in the Original Song category for his eerie chant “Ave Satani.”
The blockbuster “Jaws,” Spielberg’s chiller about a man-eating great white shark that terrorizes a New England resort town, was one of the five nominees for Best Picture in 1975. Though it lost there to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” it won its bids for Best Film Editing, Sound, and John Williams‘ menacing score.
The most successful horror film in Oscar history to date is “The Exorcist” (1973). Linda Blair was nominated in Best Supporting Actress for playing a girl possessed by the devil. Ellen Burstyn was in the lead race for playing her petrified mother and Jason Miller, as a skeptical priest, was up for Best Supporting Actor. The film received ten nominations altogether including Best Picture and for director William Friedkin. It won Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Perhaps the strangest Oscar-nominated horror film is “Ben” (1972). The sequel to “Willard” (1971) is about a young boy who befriends a murderous rat. Michael Jackson had a #1 hit with the film’s title tune, which was a competitor for Best Original Song.
Roman Polanski‘s “Rosemary’s Baby” won veteran actress Ruth Gordon her only Oscar for her supporting turn as Mia Farrow‘s Satan-worshipping neighbor. The film, about Farrow’s tortured pregnancy with the Antichrist, also got Polanski his first Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Horror master Alfred Hitchcock earned nominations for his classics “The Birds” (1963) and “Psycho” (1960). “The Birds,” about a small town threatened by killer fowl, competed in Best Special Effects. “Psycho,” a slasher film starring Anthony Perkins, earned nominations for Best Director, Cinematography, and Art Direction. Janet Leigh was nominated for Best Supporting Actress as his victim who meets her fate in the shower.
The campy “The Bad Seed” (1956) picked up three Oscar nominations for its actresses, including one for 11-year-old Patty McCormack as the murderous Rhoda. Nancy Kelly competed in the lead race as her suspicious mother and Eileen Heckart was in the supporting field as the mother of one of Rhoda’s victims. The film was also cited for its cinematography.
Ted Parmelee‘s short film “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1953) was preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 2001. Based on Edgar Allan Poe‘s short story of the same name, it competed in Best Animated Short Film, but lost to Walt Disney fare “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom.”
“Return to Glennascaul” (1953) was another spooky short to get an Oscar nomination. The ghost story about hitchhikers who invite Orson Welles back to their home contended in the Best Short Subject category.
Many Universal horror films are fondly remembered today, but the Academy focused their attention mainly on “Phantom of the Opera” (1943). Claude Rains played the disfigured phantom who wreaks havoc on a music hall. The film won Oscars for its sets and cinematography and also had bids for its sound recording and musical score. Other Universal horror films nominated around the same time were thematically similar Special Effects nominees “Invisible Agent” (1942), “The Invisible Woman” (1941), and “The Invisible Man Returns” (1940). “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) also got a Best Sound nomination.
The only zombie film to get an Oscar nomination was “King of the Zombies” (1941). The forgettable B-movie comedy about a mansion full of the walking dead contended for Best Original Score.
Finally, the first horror film to get Oscar buzz was “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1932). Fredric March won Best Actor for playing a scientist who takes a potion that turns him into a homicidal lunatic. The script and cinematography were also nominated. When the film was remade in 1941 with Spencer Tracy, it was nominated for Best Cinematography, Film Editing, and Original Score.
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